Residents of government housing do not forfeit their right to possess a gun, a federal judge has ruled.
US District Judge Glenn Suddaby issued a preliminary injunction against the Cortland Housing Authority’s (CHA) ban on Tuesday. Suddaby found that the upstate New York public housing provider’s policy of prohibiting its residents from keeping handguns in their homes probably violates the Second Amendment.
“It is further ordered that Defendants, their officers, agents, servants, employees and attorneys and those acting in concert with them, are temporarily enjoined from taking any action to enforce, or otherwise requiring any person or entity to comply with, the Firearms Ban as set forth in ‘Tenant’s Obligations’ in Article IX, Section (p) of Defendants’ standard Residential Lease Agreement,” Judge Suddaby wrote in Hunter v. Cortland Housing Authority. Though he allowed the housing authority to continue prohibiting “the display, use or possession of firearms in the common areas, grounds or parking areas of the property of CHA in violation of New York State law.”
The ruling prevents the employees of the public housing provider from enforcing its gun ban until the case has reached a final verdict on the merits. The ruling is the latest in a long line of similar court decisions recognizing the rights of public housing residents to possess firearms since the Supreme Court’s landmark Heller decision in 2008.
Tuesday’s decision stems from a stipulation within the CHA residential lease agreement. As a condition of living in subsidized housing, residents must sign a contract stating that they or their guests will not “display, use, or possess any firearms” or other weapons as defined by New York state law. Three Cortland Housing Authority tenants partnered with the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) to challenge the policy last December. The group said they were “delighted” by the court’s ruling.
“No public housing authority should be allowed to simply block tenants from exercising their right to keep and bear arms,” Alan M. Gottlieb, SAF founder, said in a statement. “The Bill of Rights is an all-or-nothing proposition, not a buffet from which a bureaucracy should be able to pick and choose which rights they find acceptable.”
In defense of its gun-ban policy, the CHA argued in court that public housing did not exist at the time of the country’s founding. It also claimed that the rate of gun violence in public housing is a modern problem and “wholly unprecedented.” Therefore, its lawyers argued, the court should accept a looser historical analogue to its modern gun ban, which they said was authorized under the Supreme Court’s 2022 New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen decision. They suggested that the firearms ban was akin to public housing restrictions on who may be part of a tenant’s household despite there being a recognized legal right for families to live together.
Suddaby, a George W. Bush appointee, dismissed that argument because he said public housing did exist around the time of the Founding and that the CHA’s comparison to family restrictions missed the mark.
“Even if the Court were to agree that a ‘more nuanced approach’ is appropriate here, the Court has trouble accepting Defendants’ argument such an approach constitutes a license for them to analogize the Firearms Ban to a non-firearm regulation, under the circumstances,” Suddaby wrote. “Simply stated, instead of meeting their burden of establishing that the modern regulation is consistent with the National tradition, Defendants base their justification for their Firearms Ban on half of a historical analogy (to a non-firearms regulation, no less), which actually seems to undermine their case.”
Ultimately, he found the plaintiffs were likely to succeed at the merits stage, which justifies issuing a preliminary injunction.
“After carefully considering the matter, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have demonstrated a substantial likelihood on the merits of their first claim, for the reasons stated by them in their memoranda of law,” he wrote.
The Cortland Housing Authority did not respond to a request for comment.